What is beautiful?

Marcus Aurelius said something to the effect that everything has beauty as a part of nature, such as the foam coming out of an animal’s mouth, and that by examining these things, one should come to the conclusion that they are beautiful within themselves, and should be regarded as such objectively. Is anything really objectively beautiful though? He claims, (if I interpreted the passage correctly) that everything is inherently beautiful.

I think that the quote from Arnold’s Grandpa from “Hey Arnold” is more accurate, though:
“Everything in nature is beautiful, unless it’s ugly”

Beauty is relative, though, and non-absolute. It’s not dead. It’s a highly conscious concept. So how can it be “objective”? :stuck_out_tongue:

I’d sort of agree with Dan~ in that there is no absolute truth or beauty even as a theoretical limit let alone a real value.

None the less that is a beautiful passage

  • Now what am I comparing it too!


“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

I think that is something that hard to argue with, given the current post-modern views within society. While there are agreed upon signifiers of beauty (blonde hair on women, trimmed fur on a housepet) there are always exceptions to the rule (I like redheads, can’t stand blonde hair). It is the subjective experience of the object that the subject contrasts the object to other experiences (or other objects) and defines where in a ‘scale of beauty’ (for lack of a better term) this object would fall. Because each subject has different experiences this conception cannot be locked.

Someone who has never seen any impressionist art may think that it is all ugly (and I have encountered this) whereas Monet’s ‘La Promenade, la femme a l’ombrell’ is one of the most breathtaking things I have seen in my life. The experience of the object defines the beauty of the object, the object does not define it’s own beauty.

This is an issue because while the coneption of beauty may be subjective, visually-appealing and even attraction may be much more objectively-based. The golden ratio, for example, seems to have a more universal appeal: anything structured around it seems to have a higher attractive value independent of experience. This, to me, would not qualify as beauty but would certainly be a more objective contributor to attractiveness.

Is it not symptomatic of our time that we no longer know what beauty is?

I guess it’s symptomatic of all times, then- Plato also argued about beauty.

I kind of think we have a better grasp of beauty.

We all know now, that what is beauty to one will not be so with others. We accept this reality far better now than ever before. Therefore we have a better grasp of beauty.

Or perhaps Plato’s time and our time have this in common? Or maybe his time was the beginning of the forgetting what beauty is and ours a continuation?

So we have a better grasp because we recognize that we don’t know what it is? When one calls something beautiful and the other says it is not, are they talking about the same quality? If not, why use the same term?

Are we down to the old debate (and it would go back to the Greeks) between?

  1. absolute relativism -

Best summed as its all completely in the eye of the beholder or there is no real difference between Shakespeare and the phone book*

  1. Or some form of “relative” relativism

Where there was at least an agreed basis or scale of comparison or disagreement?

I guess I’d go for 2!

  • Actually if yer definition of beauty was pure utility of information access/retrieval (truth is beauty!) - phone book might win on efficiency grounds! - OK drifting off topic

The quality of beauty may lie in our emotions triggered by our senses. So it would likely be that feeling of beauty, that is the same, not the subject.
The feeling of beauty is pretty much the same for all. The subject of our senses and emtions need not be the same.

Okra is a food, it is green , it is the fruit of a plant. To my senses it is nasty. To others it is delicious.

To me steamed potatoes with garlic, butter, salt, pepper and cheese is delicious Looks, like hell but, tastes great.

I find the Mona Lisa a bland work by a great artist. Many would disagree.
We see the painting not differently but, we do feel the painting differently

beauty /feelings The same feeling of beauty we all feel but, towards differnt subjects. Look at beauty as a smile of the soul.

Quite, part of the nature of our time is the destabilization of truth: we seemingly view everything with skepticism, and with that mindset we can no longer see absolutes in terms of truth or even definition. Granted this could be said about anything, not just beauty.

Question: Just because we can no longer know what beauty is does that mean there is no universal beauty, or have we just become to skeptical/ignorant to see it?

Reductive analysis might say that beautiful is no more than an emotional response like “wow” or “ouch.” Yet we have the word beautiful. We simply no longer know what it means. If humanity had always been in its current state, the word would never have been coined. A pleasurable grunting noise would suffice to express the contemporary experience that corresponds with our dim understanding of what The Beautiful might be.


“I would warn you that I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or ugly, well-ordered or confused.”

  • MC B. Spinoza

And thus what a dark night hath fallen on so-called civilization.

Dude, there’s nothing beautiful in foam coming out of a critter’s mouth.

Theres pretty much going on here, really. Beauty is relative to the observer, I would agree to that. But if we ascribe beauty to an object or thing, then what does ‘to experience beauty’ mean ?

“Dearest Felix, I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions. I have striven not to laugh, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.”

  • MC B. Spinoza

Let us not attribute beauty nor ugliness, but understand this foam as a necessary function of the power of the organism to live and grow. The foam, therefore, is perfect in that it is by the divine nature that it exists.

Dearest B.,

And yet my friend, despite of your noble intentions, you have allowed your mind to be confounded by the rationalistic ambitions of Rene D. Thus, your mystic intuitions are weighted with the dross of geometric absurdities. Never mind. You will be ignored by all but a few would-be pantheists and a maverick physicist. Alas, your heart was true, your aim was not.